City dwellers know that summer means open season at rooftop bars. With sky-high saloons popping up at seemingly every new hotel, it’s hard to know which are truly worthwhile and which will just leave you high and dry. Our editors have picked out 10 of the most tried-and-true of these elevated establishments, each touting alfresco offerings that go well beyond the killer views, with creative cocktails, live entertainment, and sexy patrons all adding to the see-and-be-seen vibes. Whether you come earlier in the day to catch some rays, show up for sublime cityscape-framed sunsets, or linger well into the balmy night, somehow a chilled margarita or martini just tastes better a few stories up. Just hurry up and rise to the occasion – most city kids go inside to play once the summer sun slips away, and these lofty lounges lose some luster.
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Surveying Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and beyond from the 6th floor Altitude Pool Deck at the SLS Hotel (on La Cienega Boulevard) drives home the oft-surprising truth that the most visible configuration of LA sprawl is subtropical flora rather than sun-scorched concrete. Such pleasing panoramas are best pondered over cocktails, of course, and the Altitude's rooftop bar doesn’t disappoint – signature drinks like cava mimosas and gazpacho bloody Mary’s. Put down a couple of those and you’ll be turning your head away from the panorama and toward the sexy scene-stealers lounging on Philippe Starck-designed chaises around the rooftop’s two pools. It stands to reason that such rarefied glamour is only open to guests of the hotel, or patrons of the onsite Ciel Spa. www.slsbeverlyhills.com
The Empire Hotel has applies its timeless ritz to the vast 12th floor rooftop bar. Dress to the nines and brave the lines at the door for access to this 8,000-square-foot platform for stargazing, of both the stellar and celebrity variety. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Cera, and Emma Stone have all made recent appearances here, while the lounge also provides a perfect perch for views over Lincoln Center, Central Park, and Midtown and Upper West Side skyscrapers. Bask in the sultry red-lit glow of the hotel’s iconic Hotel Empire sign while sipping specialty drinks from the new cocktail menu debuting summer 2012. Visit Monday nights for live jazz, around 5pm on weekdays for happy hour deals on their otherwise pricey drinks, or on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights to experience the rooftop at its most bustling. www.empirehotelnyc.com
When The Joule debuted in Dallas in spring 2008, the buzz quickly turned to the hotel’s dramatic 10th floor rooftop pool and adjacent Poolside bar. The cantilevered pool – which extends some 8 feet beyond the building’s perimeter – offers the most dazzling downtown views to those who swim to the end (through a clear Plexiglas wall). Though taking a dip is a perk exclusive to hotel guests (and only permitted during daytime hours), non-guests can experience the dramatic aquatic and cityscape montage come nightfall, with drink in hand. Cocktails like Watermelon Sangria and Tangerine Mojito can be ordered by the glass or pitcher – a top-notch tactic to beat the summer heat. Bed-like sofas and dark-wicker lounge chairs trimmed with blue throw pillows contrast harmoniously with the wooden flooring underfoot, which seconds as an impromptu dance floor for the DJs who spin on Friday and Saturday nights. www.thejouledallas.com
The luckiest place in Las Vegas may very well be outside of the casinos. Situated on the top of THEhotel at Mandalay Bay directly on the Strip, Mix Lounge offers some of the best views of the flashing neon lights of vivacious Las Vegas. Ride the glass elevator to the 64th floor to enter this DJ-fueled den of Sin City at its finest. Entrance is free from the time doors open at 5pm until 10pm, but the real party doesn’t start until well after sunset. Step out onto the balcony with cocktail in hand – we recommend the signature Mixopolitan – and there’s a good chance you’ll never want to leave. If you’re feeling hungry, you can sample light bites from the Alain Ducasse-designed menu from next-door Mix restaurant. www.mandalaybay.com
The best panoramas of Manhattan are decidedly better outside of Manhattan. That’s why this rooftop oasis in Long Island City, Queens, scores high marks for its striking skyline views. Situated atop the Ravel Hotel, LIC’s first upscale boutique lodging, its rooftop lounge is no doubt the hotel’s centerpiece. It’s positioned only a mile east of Midtown Manhattan, right next to the Queensboro Bridge, and delivers up-close vistas of the bridge and Midtown high-rises, as well as a sweeping vista of the East River (two factory smoke stacks sit in the foreground but add depth to the otherwise picture-perfect view). For those after killer city views, it's a vantage point that can't be beat. www.ravelhotel.com
Here’s one “point of view” (for which the bar’s name – P.O.V. – is an abbreviation) that DC politicos and power brokers can finally agree upon: the W Washington, D.C.'s rooftop terrace affords unrivalled panoramas of our nation’s capital, from the energized East Wing of the White House to the evocative Washington Monument, National Mall, and Jefferson Memorial. Be prepared for long lines at this stylish hot spot, where a speakeasy-themed drink menu complements the scenery. Indoors, an upscale lounge for DC’s elite features nightly DJs and light tapas fare with a menu designed by master chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten; floor-to-ceiling windows frame the iconic views. www.wwashingtondc.com
The year-round indoor/outdoor lounge ROOF, above theWit Hotel in Chicago, is dressed in a sleek color palette (think grays, blacks, and ivories) and, fittingly, comprises the city’s coolest new spot. Gaze upon skyscrapers that litter the Chi-town skyline from the bar's sprawling 7,000-square-foot space (almost half of which unfolds outdoors) equipped with a state-of-the-art telescope for optimum star gazing and people watching. For true rooftop enthusiasts, four to six brave souls may opt to dine suspended mid-air in a glass-enclosed seating area that extends past the confines of the building’s 27th floor. Bite into dishes from the small-plates menu, like brisket sliders with caramelized onions, cheddar, and horseradish sauce on potato buns. ROOF also has Chicago’s unpredictable weather covered, quite literally, thanks to the bar's indoor section. Dubbed the "Living Room," it's furnished with firepits, while a fully-stocked bar, offset by the danceable beats of DJs (on weekends), helps to warm up even the chilliest bones. www.thewithotel.com
Perched 18 stories above Miami’s epicenter of cool, the Mid-Beach area, the Perry South Beach’s crowning glory, The Rooftop, has rightfully emerged on top of the city’s competitive nightlife scene. Centered upon a palm-fringed, 110-foot-long infinity-edge swimming pool (the largest rooftop pool in Miami) that’s reserved for hotel guests’ day use only (and restricted to adults), the massive 26,000-square-foot space's striking ocean and city views, perfectly poured mojitos and sangria, and sexy clientele, serve well to seamlessly transform the space into a sophisticated tropical oasis free-for-all by night. Splurge for bottle service and soak up the scene from cabanas complete with flat-screen TV – though the real show is the scantily clad scenesters bumping and grinding to the smooth beats on the teak decks. Tip: Thursday nights reign supreme. www.perrysouthbeachhotel.com
Situated in San Diego’s atmospheric Gaslamp Quarter, this über-swanky rooftop rendezvous point, set above the House of Blues, is a perfect spot to soak up the California sun and shed your flip-flops and board shorts for something a little more upscale. Shaded by high-rises on the fourth-floor lounge of the Hotel Palomar San Diego (which replaced Hotel Sé in September 2011), this 7,000-square-foot terrace draws the crowds, in no small part due to its build-your-own cocktails – including gimlets and daquiris – with fresh berries and herbs and tasty small-bites menu (from mini tacos to fresh ceviches and fruit salads). Book a private cabana fit with curtains and pillows (packages start at $200) to avoid bumping elbows at the teak bar, or grab a reclining chaise lounge beside the infinity-edge pool (it’s closed for swimming at night). www.hotelpalomar-sandiego.com
Glide up to this glamorous Atlanta lounge courtesy of the W Buckhead’s glass elevator – it’s even fit with a couch should the views knock you off your feet before you reach the top. Upon exiting, this manifestation of Southern swank is a delight to soak up, with an alfresco field of artificial grass and trees that leads into the indoor area, where a décor defined by touches of 1970s glam (think shag rugs at their classiest and dark-wood paneling) and Art Deco details unfolds. Two dimly lit outdoor patios offer either plush couches for lounging with background views of Buckhead, or bar stools backed by breathtaking vistas of downtown Atlanta. Opened by nightlife tycoon Gerber Group (and headed in part by Rande Gerber, former model and hubby to Cindy Crawford), the bar takes pride in its regular guest list of VIPs and celebrity types, as well as in its signature drinks, like the black raspberry martini (Belvedere black raspberry vodka, fresh raspberries, mint, lime, and a splash of Champagne) and the Southern Smash (Ciroc peach vodka, strawberries, lemon, and simple syrup). www.watlantabuckhead.com